Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.See all posts »
Tropical Medicine 101
In describing this experience, it is difficult to know where to begin, so I will use this particular post to simply describe the setting, and use future posts to go into greater detail about some of what we learned, both medically and with regard to the remarkable people of the immediate region.
Lake Atitlan sits in the western highlands of Guatemala, the result of a volcanic explosion some 85,000 years ago that created a huge caldera. It is a magnificent place, tropical in its jungle foliage, yet temperate in climate. The enormous lake, one of the largest in the world and of the order of Lake Tahoe and Crater Lake, is surrounded by volcanoes, all currently dormant. The conference was held at the Hotel Atitlan in Panajachel (“Pana”), a bustling town maintained by colorful and industrious locals. However, the current political calm of the city is a relatively recent phenomenon, as we learned in an incredible evening presentation by Bonnie Dilger, author of the book Blood in the Cornfields. I will write more about this in a future post.
The faculty members were phenomenal, and I look forward to highlighting some of what I learned. This was wilderness medicine at its best, because it took into account not only the clinical aspects of what we must do, but also the social context in which it should be done. The tour of the temporary hospital that serves the people of the lake region as they await a replacement facility for their hospital that was devastated in the mudslides last year, and a walk through the camp in which the families displaced by that tragedy left deep and life-changing impressions on many of the participants, including me.
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